Co-op launches in-store collection scheme for single-use plastics

Co-op has started an in-store collection system for "scrunchable" plastics, including carriers bags, yoghurt pots and food wrappers, which will be processed into waste disposal bin liners to be used by the retailer.

If the trials in the South East prove successful, a national rollout will commence early next year. Image: Co-op

If the trials in the South East prove successful, a national rollout will commence early next year. Image: Co-op

Starting today (8 September) 50 Co-op stores across the South of England will act as collection points for a variety of single-use plastic items. These stores will take in plastic carrier bags, lids from ready meals and yoghurt pots, wine box inners, chocolate, cake and biscuit wrappers, fruit and vegetable flow wrap and toilet roll wrappers from any brand or retailer to be collected.

Estimates from WRAP suggest that 760,000 tonnes of plastic film end up in UK waste streams every year, around 50% of which comes from household waste. As such, Co-op is hoping to collect the material, which is not currently collected by UK councils.

The plastic will be collected in-store and then sorted. Where possible, the material will be processed into waste disposal bin liners for use in Co-op stores.

Co-op Food’s chief executive Jo Whitfield said: “We want to make it easy for households to recycle all of their plastic food packaging, to prevent unnecessary waste and reduce pollution. Flimsy plastic film has long been a problem and people are rightly confused as to whether it can be recycled or if it should go straight in the bin. 

“We’re pleased to be trialling a proposal that we hope offers a simple solution to an everyday issue. Learnings will help us to prompt a positive change in consumer behaviour over the coming months, ahead of our national rollout next year.”

Co-op produces more than 750 million pieces of plastic film annually. If the trials in the South East prove successful, a national rollout will commence early next year.

The Co-op recently moved the deadline for ensuring that 100% of the packaging on its own-brand lines is easy-to-recycle forward from 2023 to 2021. The retailer will ensure that its own-brand packaging can be collected via kerbside collections or though in-stores systems.

Currently, almost 75% of Co-op’s own-brand products are now widely recyclable. Black plastic was banned from the retailer’s shelves in 2019. The company also removed all black plastics from own-brand lines and rolled out compostable carrier bags last year.

It comes as other supermarkets launch new efforts to reduce single-use plastics. Last week, Asda unveiled plans to remove single-use plastic bags for fruit and vegetables from stores, in favour of reusable alternatives made from recycled material, while Aldi confirmed a roll-out of cardboard meat trays.

Commenting on Co-op’s announcement, WRAP’s director Peter Maddox said: “Plastic bags and wrapping make up a quarter of all plastic packaging bought today* but only four per cent is recycled. These plastics are light-weight yet bulky, and with few local authorities collecting them, it is frustrating for people at home to fill their bins with unrecycled packaging.

“This is why all members of The UK Plastics Pact have pledged to make all plastic packaging recyclable by 2025. It’s great to see Co-op helping to cut through the confusion and accepting all types of plastic bags and wrapping at their stores.”

Matt Mace



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